Wednesday September 5, 2012

The National Football League has its share of problems, but when millions of Americans tune in to tonight’s NFL opener between NFC rivals the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys -- skipping the Democratic National Convention in the process -- they will fade into the background. The NFL not only rules the sports scene it is a formidable cultural force, as America will now see right through the Super Bowl on February 3, 2013.

Violence has always been at the core of pro football’s appeal, but as the players grow bigger and faster and advances in protective gear encourage reckless behavior, injuries are more frequent and more severe. The NFL’s attempts to reduce dirty play by cracking down on the New Orleans Saints for putting bounties on opponents has actually run into opposition from the players the league is trying to protect. In contrast, former players crippled by the game are suing the league for allegedly failing to protect them adequately in their playing days.

Unable to reach a contract agreement with referees, the NFL enters the season tonight with underqualified replacement referees calling the games. The league’s new emphasis on safety is hollow given its willingness to go without the experienced refs needed to flag unnecessarily rough or dirty play. Look for a contract to be reached soon after the first referee controversy of the season -- tonight perhaps?

Berkshire County’s many New York Giants fans are savoring last winter’s Super Bowl triumph. Even more plentiful Berkshire fans of the New England Patriots are still hurting from that loss but are comforted in the knowledge that Tom Brady and company appear to be playoff locks once again this year. Judging by the stunning immensity of the TV money the NFL will be getting again this year from Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN, Americans in general will be glad to watch whatever team is playing, and buy lots of Budweisers and Fords. Loud, violent, fueled by betting and saturated by commercialism, the NFL is America personified -- for better or worse. Almost time for kickoff.